Huckabee on the Lessons of His Campaign for GOP

For a guy who stopped running for president more than two months ago, Mike Huckabee sure has been getting a lot of attention. Ever since he bowed out of the race after the Texas primary on March 4, and then endorsed John McCain five days later on "Larry King Live," the former Arkansas governor has kept a high profile, traveling across the country giving speeches to conservative and Christian organizations and stumping for virtually every Republican running for office, including McCain. His political action committee, HuckPAC, which he launched last month, has raised money for eight Republicans in a variety of races— gubernatorial, congressional and even state-legislature races. Three weeks ago he joined McCain on his campaign bus when it rolled through Little Rock, Ark., during the presumptive GOP nominee's "poverty tour." The two yucked it up like old pals, reminding people that, unlike McCain and Mitt Romney, they really do seem to like each other.

On May 12, it was reported that Huckabee is now at the top of McCain's VP shortlist. That same day however, conservative columnist Robert Novak lit a firestorm when, anonymously citing an "experienced, credible activist in Christian politics," he wrote that Huckabee "had embraced the concept that an Obama presidency might be what the American people deserve."

Huckabee spent the day knocking the report down, and then a good part of the following evening playing the role of pundit on MSNBC, diagnosing the election results of the day, including HuckPAC-supported Greg Davis's loss in the race for a House seat in Mississippi. Displaying his familiar folksy wit, Huckabee candidly admitted that the Republican brand is "badly damaged" but reminded everyone that "people don't buy the brand, they buy the cereal: they're not buying Kellogg's, they're buying Frosted Flakes." In his spare time—if there is any— Huckabee's writing a campaign memoir due out in November. He spoke to NEWSWEEK's Matthew Philips:

NEWSWEEK: It seems like you never stopped running. Last week you got 10 percent of the vote in Indiana and 12 percent in North Carolina. Not bad for someone who hasn't been in the race for two months.
Mike Huckabee:
Yeah, we nearly won the darned things. Maybe we would have done better if I'd just never campaigned.

The Novak column saying that you think an Obama win is what the country deserves has made quite a stir this week. Is there any truth to it?
It is less true than Hillary Clinton dropping out. I talked to Novak, told him it was completely false, and yet he goes with some unnamed source, some anonymous fantasy. It's absolute, total b.s. I've heard that some people aren't as gung-ho about Senator McCain as I wish they were. But I have yet to hear anyone, anyone say they hope Obama wins. There's not one person—and I talk to a lot of people up and down the chain of the conservative movement—not one, whether over the phone or e-mail or face to face, that has made that comment. So to that effect, to me it's a completely ridiculous allegation that Novak obviously can't substantiate.

So what do you think is motivating it?
Let's face it, there are some people who have never been supporters of mine, who may be trying to create a cloud of suspicion over me as a person, and I can't figure it out. 

How concerned are you that McCain won't be able to pull the Christian conservative vote come November?
I honestly don't think that he'll have that big a problem. I think he'll be able to bring conservatives to him who may not have been with him up to this point. We're still just coming away from our own primary, and we don't even know who his opponent is going to be. Once that's settled, I think it will drive a level of enthusiasm toward Senator McCain. I have never had anything but kind words for him. I've been the one candidate among Republicans who hasn't had to take back what he said on the campaign trail, so this idea that I'm behind the scenes saying unkind things is just so far from the truth it's not funny.

It's said that you're now atop his list of potential running mates. Have you gotten any sense that you might be a likely candidate?
That's again just pure speculation that I don't want to be a part of. No one has contacted me or indicated any of that to me. I'm just focused on getting him elected.

If it was offered to you, would you accept?
It's impolite to start saying that if the captain of the football team were to invite me to the prom, that I already have a dress picked out. Again, my job right now is to get him elected.

Former congressman Bob Barr has entered the race as a Libertarian. What do you make of that?
Not much, to be honest. I think a lot of people claiming to be Republicans really aren't; they're Libertarians, and they need to be in the Libertarian Party. That's something beginning to emerge, and I'd rather have people being honest about what they are rather than masquerading as Republicans.

Do you think he could be a spoiler to McCain, like Ralph Nader was to the Democrats in 2000?
I don't see that happening. Nobody knows who Bob Barr is. Nader was so well known when he ran, he was a brand unto himself. I don't see Barr having that kind of brand appeal.

You're working on a book due out in November. Is it a campaign memoir or more of a political plan for the future?
It's a bit of both. In many ways, it's how the future of the conservative movement can learn from what we saw on the campaign trail and what we saw from the grass-roots effort. The conventional wisdom has been that it's all about the money, but we shattered that. To me, that's the most important lesson that came out of the process: that it's about the message and moving people through that message, and that ordinary people who can't write the biggest checks and have never been invited to sit among the swells, that they can have just as much an impact as anyone.

You're under a tight deadline. What's you're writing schedule like?
I'm writing every day. It's good and bad because it does force you to write—being on deadline—but you also wake up every morning in a panic, thinking of how many pages you have to write that day. My schedule depends on my travel, but I'm trying to get through about two to three chapters a week.

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